Forget January – September’s where it’s at!

background-board-book-733854Bit odd?

Well, for me September brings the start of a new year working with young writers, at Didcot Girls’ and elsewhere. And I get excited about the new students that I’ll meet. The new writing that they’ll make. The new ground that we’ll ‘break’ together, on our mentoring journey.

My head also gets busy with ideas: what am I gong to bring to Year 9 in our precious poetry hour together? Which aspects of poetry do I want them to experience and experiment with? Which mind blowing poets do I need to introduce them to?

(At this point there’s usually an avalanche of poets/poems/techniques/techniques that I’d like to bring to the workshop table…aaarrrggghhh TOO MUCH CHOICE!)

I will eventually decide. And I will savour the planning and selecting process.

In the meantime, here’s a throwback to summer 2018, when 3 of my talented mentee poets won awards at this years Oxford Poetry Live competition –


#LetsDoThisKids 12: Destination X


All good things come to an end.

But as I told my brilliant young writers at Didcot Girls, this is not the end of their writing journey, it’s just the start.

Last week we met for our last mentoring session and we were ending on a high, with our really inspiring launch event still fresh in our heads, and the writers still glowing from overcoming the challenge of reading their poetry in public, with great success.

But there is one last challenge before the end: keep on writing!

Every writer knows that the going can get tough. It’s easy to give up when you have a string of rejections of your work; when you get writers’ block and feel as if you’ll never write again; when you produce work but keep sinking into a subjective sense of ‘it’s never good enough’.

So I wanted to pass on some last advice, tips, tools and experience, to support these brilliant young people, as we disperse as a group and go our separate writing ways.

And I thought I’d share it with you, too.

So here’s our final take home task. And in the words of the entirely lovable Dory the blue-tang fish (yes, it’s a Finding Nemo reference, folks, it was an inevitability):


‘just keep swim-ming, swim-ming, swim-ming…What do we do? We swim, swim, swim…’


Last Take Away Task: Stay connected and get your work out there!

Read, read READ! Whatever you LOVE! Amazing free sites where you can read (& hear) poetry: SO GOOD!

Of course, check out poetry on YOUTUBE as well, e.g. Academy of American Poets.

  • Do writing challenges online that you can send in. This will prompt you to write new work and give you a deadline for completion as well as providing an opportunity for your work to be published and read by others.
  • Make it a regular challenge. Set a diary reminder/task on your phone (e.g. for one Saturday in each month). Make that writing challenge day.
  • Set up a writing group of your own, with a couple of friends who also want to keep writing. Decide what you want it to look like (face-to-face? Online?), how often you will meet, what you will aim to do each time.

Some examples: it could be a workshop feedback group, a place to share writing opportunities that you’ve found online, somewhere to chat about your writers’ block and ways to overcome it etc…

  • Join online writing communities (see below)

Twitter has thriving writing communities. Just remember that if you have a public profile, don’t share personal info. If you’re not sure how to use it, ask a fellow user.

  • With writing competitions and magazines/publishers: Always read and stick to submissions guidelines.

Recommended online sites for young writers:  Young Poets Network. THIS IS GREAT! See the ‘Poetry Opportunities’ tab. ‘Just words’ is a free online platform for sharing work and receiving feedback. Also they have competitions and workshop groups.

Places to submit/send your work to:  submissions from writers aged 15-21




#LetsDoThisKids 11: Proof

I can’t believe I’m nearly at the end of my 20 week mentoring journey with the wonderful young writers at Didcot Girls’ School!

But it ain’t over till it’s over, and today’s session may be one of our best …why?

…because today the writers will hold in their hands and feast their eyes on their published anthology, for the first time.


Holding your crafted words in physical form, in hard copy, in ink on paper, is a moment of almost indescribable emotion for any writer. It can often become a landmark moment that changes the course of the future for that one writer. And that is the reason why I wanted to publish these talented writers’ work, at the end of this mentoring programme.

And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, so here’s a taster:

IMG_2453IMG_2456 (1)


(Please note, poems are copyright of Halle Kennedy, 2018 ©)

There are moments in reading this when the world stands still.

We are all justifiably proud of this anthology. It offers up powerful and compelling voices throughout, captured in provocative and original form.

As well as being their publishing debut, it’s my debut as Editor, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work one-to-one with the writers in editing. When it came to putting all the work together I was a bit like that kid in the sweet-shop. The work is strong and holds its own on every page but it was exciting to see new threads emerge as I started to put poems side-to-side and back-to-back.

Excitement is mounting for our anthology launch event, taking place next week, on June 13th. I know that the experience of reading their work aloud, in front of people closest to them, who most likely have never heard ANY of their writing before, is a huge challenge.

Another emotional leap. Another first.

So in today’s session we start our launch preparation with some of my top tips for performing your poetry. Much of this has been gleaned from my 25+ years’ experience of performance, so I think it will come in handy for our young poets, many of whom will be first-time performers.

Here are my ‘top tips’ for performance. I hope they are useful for you, too.

Take away Task/ Elaine’s Top Tips for Performance


At home, rehearse out loud. Use the copy you’ll read from on the day. Do this once a day every day before the event. Know those lines.

Before you read:

Bring a water bottle

Go to the toilet (!)


When it’s your turn to read:

Accept your nerves. They are there to help your body perform to its best.

When you get to the front, take a moment. This is your time. Establish your presence. Feel the earth under you.


Throw your voice. Aim to hit the back wall.

Always introduce yourself by saying your name before you read.

Read slowly. You can’t read poetry too slowly.

Respect your line breaks & stanza breaks. Give them pause.

Look up at the audience frequently, by skimming the tops of their heads with your eyes. You don’t have to look them in the eye. This will help them to connect with you and your words.

Read from the heart, feeling your words. Then the audience will feel them too.

Enjoy it. This is YOUR MOMENT and you’ve earned it.




#LetsDoThisKids 10 – What’s in a Name?


I’ve spent the last few weeks with my Editor hat firmly on, as I’ve been close reading all the poems that my Young Writers have been submitting for our first Anthology.


It’s been a delight experiencing their work, which is fresh, multi-faceted and original. I’m very much looking forward to presenting our pamphlet to new readers, and to being able to share some of their work on this blog.

Please do keep checking back for updates!

I relished the task of naming our anthology, which will be called:


and I deliberately chose this title as it not only reflects some of the subjects the writers have written about (an exploration of some of the voices that have been influential in their lives) but also because this is THEIR creative work. They are the authors and they can take genuine pride in their ownership.

Our project, in its entire 20 week glory, has been all about using voices and crafting language to express our worlds, our concerns, our delights.

The writers have had freedom to pull away from others’ expectations, from targeted outcomes and marking criteria. They have had freedom to play with language, imagination and self-expression. And the results are impressive.

They have gloried in this freedom and it’s been a privilege to nurture and guide them through the process.

We are ending this term in a flurry of last feedback, last edits and last submissions, and I have the task of selecting which of their poems will go into our anthology. Some tough choices ahead!

We’re also all getting excited about inviting close friends and family to our anthology launch, which is coming up on June 13th


We can’t wait!

#LetsDoThisKids 9 – Deadlines. Well, yes. Except that our lines LIVE.


Having to use the word ‘deadline’ at Mentoring this week did inevitably provoke some groans. Some ‘oh nos.’ But being a writer (published or unpublished) inevitably involves creating and finishing work in a certain time-frame. Even if it’s a wide one!

My mentees are experiencing what in the world of I.T. they call ‘the full life cycle’ this year. We started at being, watching, free writing and rough drafting; we’re now approaching editing for potential publication in our anthology. And so much has gone on in the glorious weeks in-between!

At the moment I’m enjoying seeing the emergence of an ‘internal editor’ within them:

When during one-to-one feedback I suggest a word they’ve used may be a cliché, they chime in with ‘Yeah, I was wondering that…’ If I ask them to defend a line-break or indentation, they are unsurprised and sound as if they had already been asking themselves the same question.

And I know, from experience, that once it’s arrived, the internal editor will stay with them long after I’ve gone.

The young writers are at a point where we’ve shared ‘the nod’ – the ‘I think it’s finished. Yep, so do I’  nod, so I’m delighted to say it won’t be long before I can share some of their work with you.

In the meantime, here are some of them, combining three of their favourite things:

Time. Sunshine (well, shade). And writing.


#LetsDoThisKids 8 – Here’s to ‘expanding the mind’

air-airship-art-237779At the half-way mark in my mentoring programme at Didcot Girls’ School (where I am Patron of Writing), I want to share some of the young writers’ highlights so far.

Let’s hear it in their own words:

‘From the one-to-one feedback, I get a professional and honest view’

‘I have really liked having suggestions on what to add/ take away from my poem’

‘You’ve taught me to add more details’

‘It’s expanding my mind on poetry’

‘You’ve taught me to have confidence in my writing and my ability.’

I was humbled, encouraged and delighted by their responses.

Thanks so much for following this project – lots more to follow in the next 10 weeks, including showcasing of the writers’ exciting new work.

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Storm surge of words – DGS writers on the mentoring programme

#LetsDoThisKids 7 – Where?


Over the last couple of weeks in mentoring, we’ve been taking a few walks.

Getting out there.

Having a look around.

And writing it all down, sticking to our mantra: #nofilter.

We absolutely loved listening to Sinead Morrissey reading Frank O’Hara‘s 1960’s poem ‘A Step Away from Them’ (you can read the poem on the Poetry Foundation website, here.) We admired the way he recreates place for us so vividly and candidly (in his case, the place is New York City), along with the way he flits so naturally and conversationally between observations and deeper emotions of attachment and regret.

We followed this up with another poet harking back from the sixties, but in this case the poet hails from Russia. I introduced everyone to the poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko (you can check him out here) and we took a trip with him on his ‘Bicycle’, taking in the landscape, and the trauma of past history that ricochets out of his journeying.

(The only problem: so much inspiration, so little time!)

Today we will be continuing on our own journeys, each taking a different path, writing freely into place and experience.


I’m excited to see what my fabulous mentees produce …

(More of this soon.)

World Book Day – lyrics, composition AND poetry slaying


As an aside to all the fabulous stuff my Didcot Girls’ writing mentees are doing, as Patron of Writing I was also thrilled to be involved in the FIRST EVER DGS song, lyric and poetry competition, which took place on World Book Day last week.

(Thanks go to the gorgeous author Jo Cotterill, DGS Patron of Reading; Sean Dingley, Head of Music and Leoni Barnes, DGS Librarian, for all their input on this brilliant project, some pics here .)

Read about how it all went on performance day here.

There were some simply stunning performances and I was deeply impressed by the young writer/musicians collaborations, as well as their ability to express the plights and emotions of their chosen characters.

The only slight downside is that I have the unenviable task of selecting some winners! …


#LetsDoThisKids 6 – To Be A Mentor

This week, I did some catching up with The (always brilliant) Verb (BBC R3) and came across their ‘How do you choose a mentor?’ discussion (Dec 1, 2017, with the inimitable poet Hollie McNish, listen to it here). It got me thinking. And realising that I am deeply glad to be a mentor to my young writers on our Mentoring programme at Didcot Girls’ School.

Everyone needs a little helpful direction sometimes.

Every week this process presents me with challenges:

What can I offer them? How will I share it? How will it impact them?

And I guess this week, having reached half term and a short hiatus, was a time to reflect. So.

What’s changed in the last 5 weeks?

  • These writers are continually demonstrating sharper observation.
  • They are increasingly aware of their power as wordsmiths. Power to reflect their world. Power to make a mark on their world. Power to present realities in a fresh way. Power to challenge things.
  • They are speaking out. A few read their own work in front of the entire group this week. That’s a FIRST. But I know it won’t be a LAST.
  • They are probably taking away with them more than I can imagine, as I continue to share openly with them about my thinking about writing: my process, my source of ideas, my treasured and collected fragments garnered from other writers.

And in other news …

Some of the writers are working towards competition deadlines with their work (DEADlines: always a good push to finish things 😊), receiving one-to-one feedback from me as they go.

Most are currently editing a ‘Voice’ piece, and putting into practice new editing skills and insights

Many may be thinking about the quote I shared this week, that writing is in fact ‘80% reading’ (as according to Patience Agbabi) … and picking up a book …


Most are getting excited about our plans to publish our own ANTHOLOGY at the end of our 20 week journey (more on this soon!)



Writer’s Development Task 5:

Continue to observe ‘your person’ and add observations to your notebook.

Over half term, edit your Voice piece. Use the question prompts.

CUT. ADD, using your notebook ideas. EXPERIMENT. Work on the TITLE.

We’re in this together #LetsDoThisKids 5 White antlers…Inside of brain…Twiggy…Wild hair…Ummm …

What ARE the DGS writers going on about?


Reindeer moss.

And why?

Quite simply, they were engaging on an observation exercise: I showed them a close-up image of said very small plant and they had to write what they saw.

Remembering the mantra: #Nofilter

What is brilliant about these responses is that they are diverging from superficial exterior observation to new untethered thoughts. With descriptions like ‘inside of brain’ they are venturing into the land of metaphor. Their close observations are opening up pathways of thought and links which, prior to this, were unavailable to them.

On the back of this task, we shared a few minutes of awestruck wonderment, as we read Margaret Atwood’s poem about moss (that would be ‘Reindeer Moss on Granite’, which you can read online here), exploring briefly where her observation takes her in this work, which is an exemplary piece of craft, expression and concision.

A personal highlight for me this week was being a fly on the wall as the young writers began to read their own drafts to each other, in small groups, putting into practice what they are learning about giving constructive feedback.

pexels-photo-211122 (2)A special moment for many – sharing their own writing aloud for the first time. But also getting something back that can actually take them forward, keeping in mind that our work is so much of the time ‘in progress’.

It takes time (and so often, incisive feedback) to craft a strong piece of work!

And finally …

Writer’s Development Task 3:

Continue to use your notebook & write something every day.

Do some people watching & write what you observe. Note mannerisms & listen out for conversation – be subtle!